Cottager wants better understanding of autism
By Angelica Ingram
Rebecca Alves’s younger brother Alex loves to watch YouTube videos.
Like most high school students, Alex, 20, has a variety of interests including going for bus rides, music, particularly the Barenaked Ladies and David Gray, and movies.
He spends many hours watching online movies and videos, either at his home in Ingersoll or cottage, located near Miskwabi Lake.
Alex also has severe autism and as a result is non-verbal, depending on a caretaker or service dog to assist him.
When Alex wants to use the Internet during the summer months while he’s at his family’s cottage, he and his sister travel into Haliburton and visit community hubs such as the library.
This has sometimes proven to be a challenge, as Alex’s behaviour hasn’t always been accepted by those around him.
“We have to come into town to use the Internet, so we come in a couple times a week,” said Rebecca.
On one of these visits the pair went to a local eating establishment and when Alex began coughing and wasn’t covering his mouth (a concept he doesn’t fully understand, explains Rebecca) he was shouted at by another patron.
“I just feel that it would have been much more respectful and successful for us if they had just asked us nicely ... can you please just cover your mouth, and then I could have explained,” she said.
On another trip into town Alex and Rebecca were at the library when the Internet was acting up, causing the videos he was watching to freeze.
“He was upset and he can’t verbalize the words ‘I’m upset because the Internet is not working,’” said Rebecca. “So he was screaming, to the untrained ear. But before I could walk over to the table he was at, someone had yelled ‘why are you being so loud.’”
The incidents made Rebecca uncomfortable and surprised. She believes her brother is aware that these remarks are directed towards him.
“The few times this summer, they’ve been very outwardly directed to him and been yelling at him,” she said. “While he may not react to them, I think in his heart he knows they’re not being accepting of who he is and not trying to tolerate his needs.”
In both circumstances Rebecca says the behaviour has never come from the staff at either the restaurant or library, instead from members of the public who have been less than welcoming, in her opinion.
And while this isn’t a new experience for the family, who have seen this type of behaviour before, it’s becoming more prevalent.
“It’s been more noticeable this summer because it’s happened multiple times,” she said. “It’s happened probably four or five times this summer in different locations.”
Rebecca and Alex have a younger brother named Todd, 18, who also has autism and is non-verbal.
Diagnosed when they were toddlers, both boys are described as being on the more severe end of the autism spectrum and communicate using voice-output devices and iPads.
A university student entering her fifth year of a concurrent education program, Rebecca admits the experiences have been disheartening for her to watch. With plans to be a special education teacher, she believes all people should be treated the same.
“I feel like if I were just to go to these places [alone] nothing would happen. No one would treat me differently,” she says. “But when I come with my brother then I feel like I always have a worse experience and I don’t think that’s fair. I think we should be having the same level of experience at these community places that are meant to be open for everyone in the community... so I feel like there’s a disconnect ... I don’t think we should be treated differently.”
Rebecca said she expressed her feelings to those she felt were being unwelcoming, however they didn’t necessarily agree with her stance.
“They didn’t like it when I suggested they should be the ones to leave,” she said.
Rebecca thinks that her brother, who has a disability, is not the only person who has made loud noises in a place like a restaurant or library, and says infants are more accepted individuals in society.
“I feel like if I had walked in with a crying baby they wouldn’t have said anything to me,” she said.
Rebecca reiterates that when she’s with her brother she shouldn’t have to feel anxious about going to public places for fear of others’ actions.
She says she was always encouraged by her parents to ignore other’s reactions to her brothers, however she finds it difficult.
“It never worked for me,” she said.
Rebecca says these types of incidents are not restricted to Haliburton County, and are just as likely to happen elsewhere.
“I think it’s just important to do what we can in our own community,” she said.
She hopes that by bringing her story forward it will bring more awareness and result in less judgment.
“I think it’s OK to ask each other questions even if you don’t know each other. It’s OK to ask someone ‘hey can you be quiet’ nicely. If someone had asked Alex nicely ... then that would have opened up a dialogue and I think that’s important to build a community and for us all to be respectful and accepting of each other ... I just want more awareness that people have different needs and people are going to behave differently from each other and it doesn’t mean that one person deserves to be at a library more than another.”